What you need to know:
The real people behind that “bluntness” are our queen – Muthoni Likimani, and other renowned writers such as Meja Mwangi and David Maillu.
I wouldn’t have known that it was possible to write the way I do if they had not done it before me, and if I had not read their work.
1. Your short stories are usually so visceral. Why are you so blunt?
The real people behind that “bluntness” are our queen – Muthoni Likimani, and other renowned writers such as Meja Mwangi and David Maillu. I wouldn’t have known that it was possible to write the way I do if they had not done it before me, and if I had not read their work.
But aside from that, life itself is inspiring, especially in Nairobi. Here, everything is so vibrant and dynamic from the moment you step out your door. I usually observe all the little things around me that no one pays attention to, and I develop them artistically.
Then all of a sudden, everyone thinks I am writing about them, when I am only writing about what humans, in general, like to sweep under the rag. I don’t think this type of writing will make me famous or rich or win me awards, but I am glad that people can relate to it.
2. Are you working on a book? If yes, what is it about?
So many times I have started writing a book, and then turned it into a short story. I can’t say that I am working on a book. I don’t think I ever will, because getting published is not easy in Kenya.
In the last few years, I have had to think about my work differently. I have incorporated more dialogue in my stories, and deliberately made my writing compelling enough to be translated into other forms of art such as plays and films.
I also ensure that the content is accurate so that the next generations can know how it was like to live during our times. With all this, I am not anxious at all about never having my name on the cover of a book. I don’t need a book to validate my ability to write.
3. What do you do when you get tired of writing? Do you think you could ever be anything other than a writer?
When I get tired, I watch Naija, Bongo or Indian movies, or binge on Mexican soap operas on TV and Netflix. I am not ashamed of that. Also, special mention to Selina and Maria. I never miss an episode.
If I was not a writer, I think I would be a professional hockey player.
4. What are you reading now? What’s the last book you read and didn’t like?
I am currently reading The Woman Who Walked into Doors by Roddy Doyle. I did not enjoy Swing Time by Zadie Smith. It is well written, but there is a very blurred line between what the writer thinks of Africa, and what her main character thinks of the continent.
I am sure Smith’s narration of Africa in this book can be considered satirical by others, but not me.
It was difficult for me to separate her from her accurate imitation of Madonna. We all put ourselves in our writing work, but when you are making a social or political statement, you need to either put yourself in there fully, or find a way to indict others without confusing the readers. I am sure I am alone in this opinion of Swing Time, so please don’t troll me!
5. Must writers comment on societal ills? How come artists are often viewed as ignorant when they comment on such matters?
I don’t think they have any obligation to anybody. It is never a choice of whether to write about the society or not, because even in the most fictional story, you are bound to find social or political commentary. Think about the Kaka Sungura stories and how that cunning hare ultimately just wanted power and dominion over every other animal in that kingdom. This is the reason people study literature – to identify and interpret these themes that sometimes bypass even the authors. Artists are not ignorant. If they were, no one would be buying portraits, watching films, reading books or listening to music.